Friday, March 04, 2011

Literary Echos

I've taken to frequenting my local library, largely because I'm running out of space for new purchased books.  (Someday I must prune.  After the surgery.)  Since the library has a complete bound set of Agatha Christie, I've been going through the ones I didn't buy - I have a fairly complete set of Hercule Poirots, and a lot of Miss Marples, but I never bought Tommy and Tuppence, or the non series books she wrote.  So on my last pass I picked up The Man in the Brown Suit, and it gave me a revelation.

Let me digress - there is a reason for this.  Another favorite detective series of mine is Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books, the increasingly outrageous tales of archaeology and intrigue in Egypt, anytime between the late 1880s and World War I.  In the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, Amelia introduces herself as the practical and down-to-earth daughter of an unworldly scholar father, who leaves her to deal with "the butcher and the baker," and all the other details of daily life, while he writes arcane papers on Egyptology.  Eventually he dies (it takes his club 3 days to realize it) and leaves Amelia stinking rich, and off she goes on an adventure.  This book was published in 1975.  Amelia's description of her father and herself has always been one of my favorite sequences, and I've read the book at least a dozen times.

So I sat down with The Man in the Brown Suit, and read the chapter about the exotic Russian dancer in Paris; and suddenly the scene shifts to England, and I'm listening to the first-person narrative of a young woman named Anne Beddingfeld, the down-to-earth and practical daughter of an unworldly scholar father, who leaves her to deal with "the butcher and the baker..."  Does this sound familiar to you?  It stopped me in my tracks.  It made me laugh out loud.  I haven't compared the two books word for word, but the passages where Anne and Amelia introduce themselves and describe their fathers are so similar that I was floored.  The rest of The Man in the Brown Suit isn't at all like Crocodile on the Sandbank - for one thing, Anne's father leaves her flat broke, and she goes off to South Africa, not Egypt - but I feel I've met the spiritual ancestor of Amelia Peabody.  And she was created in 1924 by one of England's great crime writers.

The Man in the Brown Suit answered another question for me.  My crime library contains a 1936 hardback edition of Christie's Cards on the Table, which is basically a Hercule Poirot novel, in which a quartet of detectives (Poirot, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver, and a Colonel Race) are matched with a quartet of people who may or may not be murderers - who knows?  They all sit down to play bridge, and then the host is murdered.  Now, from my reading of Poirot novels, I was well acquainted with him, and Mrs. Oliver, and Superintendent Battle, they're all regulars - but where did this Colonel Race come from?  (Supposed to be something in the Secret Service, you know.)  Well, he came from The Man in the Brown Suit - he's a major character in it.  I'll have to see if I can find any more about him.

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